The only early modern play to put London’s plague bouts at the heart of its plot, Ben Jonson’s 1610 comedy The Alchemist speaks directly to postpandemic audiences. In particular, by restricting its action not only to a single house but almost entirely to a single room, it reproduces the
pressured experience of quarantining with others. The play’s trio of con artists becomes a kind of family, and as in all families, its relationships are
fraught, and susceptible to explosion. In its experiments with the pressured chemistry of human relationships, the play offers a window into how
experiences of catastrophe shaped the lives and imaginations of early modern Londoners.
Tanya Pollard is Professor of English and Global Early Modern Studies at Graduate Center, The City University of New York. Her books include
Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages (2017), Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England (2005), two edited anthologies of primary texts,
and three co-edited collections of essays. She is Chair of the Council of Scholars at Theater for a New Audience, and works with other New York
theater companies, including the Red Bull Theater and the Public Theater. She was just awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her current book
project, on Shakespeare’s relationship with his leading actor, Richard Burbage. Her edition of Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist is forthcoming
with Arden Early Modern Drama in September 2023.